Where are the workers?

Where have all the workers gone?

A recent article in the local newspaper quotes manpower officials as saying that the number of workers available in September 2021 has decreased by 3,000 over those available in September 2019. They attribute much of the loss to workers’ response to the pandemic as many have opted for early retirement and the safety of their homes, while families with two incomes and small children have, in some cases, chosen to keep one spouse at home to save on child care expenses.

The problem for employers is how to respond to this scarcity of employees. Here are some initiatives that might mitigate the worker shortfall in the area workforce.

• Assess and adjust the compensation package being offered to current employees. Far better to make changes that keep good employees with the company rather than having to recruit for replacements after they leave.

• Seek opportunities to increase productivity, particularly through the use of new technology. Recent visits to local big box stores reveal that cashier-staffed checkout lanes almost are or completely shut down and replaced with self-service kiosks. How many more opportunities are employers missing to use similar labor-saving devices? For instance, it appears that self-driving semi-tractor trailers might be part of the solution to the nationwide shortage of over-the-road truck drivers.

• Convert part-time positions into full-time work to allow the employees to enjoy a full array of benefits and increase their attachment to the job and the company. Also, when a position becomes vacant, ask the following questions: Is it necessary? If so, can individual duties be assigned to existing employees? Is there a technology replacement? Is it cost effective to use a vendor?

• In addition to signing bonuses, offer employees the opportunity to accumulate educational funds. The military services have been very effective in attracting young men and women by offering educational benefits during and after their enlistments. Retail giant Amazon recently rolled out such a benefit to attract and keep employees.

• Economic 101 tells us that the demand-supply curves will meet when wages reflect an applicant’s willingness to accept or remain on the job. Simply stated, offer compensation that reflects the expectations of those in the workforce.

• Unemployment insurance regulations should be reviewed to determine if job seeking requirements and benefit amounts for claimants need to be adjusted to reduce the length of unemployment between jobs.

• Push-pull studies need to be updated to determine if there is a leakage of workers from this area to other communities offering better quality of life amenities. Do we attract (pull) desirable labor applicants to this area? Or, are we losing (push) local workforce talent to other labor markets?

• Support the recent initiative of the local school district to assess student occupational aptitudes and focus on career choices while in school

• During the pandemic some workers might have left their jobs and drifted into in the informal or “shadow” economy, working just below the economic radar, such as bartering or engaging in the kinds of self-employment for which government taxes are not collected. These informal arrangements can skew unemployment and labor participation statistics

Finally, there’s always the lure of receiving “free things” that keeps people from accepting jobs to take care of themselves. Of course, these freebies are not really free — somebody had to pay for the product or service.

Perhaps we should reintroduce the virtue of self-sufficiency, that is, the need for people to feel the satisfaction of working to earn those things they need to sustain themselves and their families.

I recall the satisfaction I felt as a young lad when I finished my paper route on Saturday mornings and walked down the street with money in my pocket that I had earned through my efforts. This virtue seeks to break the cycle of dependency and has renewed relevance in these unsettled times.